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Running on Treadmills Compared to Running Outside

It seems like running is running, whether on a treadmill or outdoors, right? Treadmills may be easier on the joints, what else could be different? And why do the two activities feel so different? Some people love one and not the other. The answer is that the movements involved in running on treadmills ares actually significantly different from those used in running on stationary surfaces. It turns out that running outdoors seems harder because it is harder.

Stride rate and stride length were studied by Elliot & Blanksby and their results published in the professional journal Medicine and Science in Sports. This study showed no significant difference in stride rate or stride length when compared between running on a treadmill and running outdoors. At least that was the result when the subjects were running between 3.3 and 4.8 meters per second. At higher speeds, however, stride length decreased, while stride rate, and the length of time the leg on the ground, increased.

Why Running On Treadmills Seems Easier

Elliot and Blanksby didn’t offer further conclusions, but their findings offer a useful speculation. When we run on stationary surfaces, our legs propel us forward. In contrast, when we run on a treadmill, we are staying in one place, just trying to keep up the pace of the moving belt. When we do this, our leg muscles are primarily trying to stay upright and to move at the right speed. This sounds like less of work requirement than having to move forward, regardless of the speed at which we are try to keep up. The calf and hamstring muscles would be particularly less burdened by the treadmill running.

Running on treadmills thus expends less energy because it requires less use of these muscles. Of course, that may not be what you need. People trying to lose fat or improve their cardiovascular health may be better off with harder, not easier. The reality for so many people, though, is that it the toughest part is starting. If what needs starting is easier, it's easier to start. Once you get going, it’s easier to keep going. The Journal of Sports Science (1996) reported that running outdoors on a hard surface is most closely approximated by adjusted the treadmill to a 1º incline. So get on your treadmill, set the incline to 1 degree, get going, andt keep going!



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